Honoring Fallen Soldiers in the Garden

If you did not grow poppies this year, research varieties to plant next year. Photo by Ashley Andrews.

Memorial Day honors men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. It was first established after the American Civil War as Decoration Day, and it was extended after World War I. Now the national holiday commemorates U.S. Service Members who died in all wars and includes a National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. local time.

Observe the day in your yard. If your landscape incorporates a flagpole, properly display the American flag for Memorial Day. At sunrise, briskly run the flag to the top of the staff and lower it slowly to half-staff. At noon, briskly run the flag back to the top of the staff until sunset.

Or, honor fallen servicemen and women in the garden with flowers. Poppies as the traditional flower to honor fallen soldiers started with a poem by Colonel John McCrae, a World War I surgeon with Canada’s First Brigade Artillery. The poem, “In Flanders Fields,” begins “In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row.”

The poem touched Anna E. Guerin and Moina Michael, and both worked to establish the practice of offering poppies for donations to help those impacted by war. The tradition continues today. Veterans assemble poppies for distribution by veterans service organizations. Funds received in return for the poppies help veterans, widows, widowers and orphans.

“The Flower of Remembrance” is a fitting plant to work with in the garden on this holiday. If you have poppies in bloom, cut a few and place them on a veteran’s grave. Use a clean vase and remove all leaves below the water surface.

To extend the bouquet’s life, harden it off. Place freshly cut stems in 110 degree Fahrenheit water plus commercial floral preservative. Then place the vase in a cool location for one to two hours. This hydrates cut flowers because water molecules have high kinetic energy at high temperatures, making it quickly move up stems. And, flowers at cool temperatures lose less water.

The commercial floral preservative helps because it has sucrose, or sugar, for the flowers to use as energy. The mixture contains an acidifier to make the pH of the water match the pH of the flower’s cell sap. This acidifier helps blossoms maintain their color too. Preservatives also include a microbial growth inhibitor to keep bacteria and fungi from clogging up water-transporting plant tissues.

If you did not grow poppies this year, research varieties to plant next year and decide where to plant them. A popular variety is Papaver rhoeas. This annual heirloom plant features iconic red blooms.

To grow this variety, scatter the seeds outdoors in early fall or in spring four-to-six weeks before the average last frost. The seeds require light to germinate, so lightly rake them into the soil. Then, keep moist. Plants will emerge in a week or two and, after thinning, will grow to about a foot tall, producing blooms in late spring to summer.

The blossoms will be a heartfelt memorial in your own backyard.

Ashley Andrews is the horticulture communications assistant with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Horticulture questions? Contact a Master Gardener at 775-336-0265 or mastergardeners@unce.unr.edu, or visit www.growyourownnevada.com.